New Delhi: The fight for spectrum, or airwaves that mobile telephony firms need to provide services, took a new turn on Thursday with the Delhi high court effectively preventing the government from allocating spectrum to Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom).
The court said on Thursday that any allocation of spectrum to phone firms such as RCom, which currently offers phone services using CDMA (code division multiple access) technology, will be subject to the outcome of an appeal filed by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a lobby for GSM (a rival technology to CDMA) operators, in the court.
“The moment there’s any allotment of spectrum (under the technology crossover clause that allows firms offering services on one technology platform to do so on another), you come to me,” justice Gita Mittal said, hearing an appeal filed by COAI which has opposed any move by the government to allocate spectrum to firms such as RCom.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) has allowed phone firms to offer services under any technology, CDMA or GSM. Before that decision, taken in October, rules disallowed such a technology “crossover”.
The court will hear the petition again on 31 January; a telecom appellate tribunal hearing a related case on spectrum allocation is scheduled to meet next on 9 January. Anil Ambani’s RCom has already paid the government Rs1,650 crore as licence fee for starting GSM services.
COAI’s counsel Ram Jethmalani?said GSM firms fear that there may be no spectrum left after DoT allocates airwaves to RCom and others under the crossover norm, saying: “We want a status quo to be maintained until a final judgement is given on this case.” He added that the government should consider auctioning spectrum.
Seeking more information from the industry, Mittal asked the government, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), RCom, Tata Teleservices Ltd, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd and Shyam Telelink Ltd to submit their responses within a week.
The government’s counsel said DoT planned to go ahead with farming out spectrum to GSM phone firms based on a Trai-recommended formula. additional solicitor general Vikas Singh said this was an interim measure.
“We will give priority to those who are eligible for additional spectrum according to the Trai norms.”
DoT said last week that it will allocate additional spectrum to firms such as Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone Essar Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd based on Trai’s recommendations, which proposed that existing operators serve up to four times the number of subscribers required to be eligible for more spectrum.